Matt Barnum critiques Loretta Ross, the keynote speaker at this year’s MLK memorial service, for bringing “politics into a day that shouldn’t be political” (“Ross’s Keynote Remarks Don’t Do MLK Day Justice,” 1/25/08). According to Barnum, there is only one appropriate way to remember King, and that is to focus on his message against racism. All other aspects of his life—especially those that are overtly “political”—may as well be forgotten. Ignoring Barnum’s faulty categorizing of anti-racism and civil rights as entirely apolitical, why should we assume that there is only one appropriate way to honor a person’s life? And why should we ignore the other causes for which King was fighting? Similarly, Barnum faults Ross for her failure to adequately justify the use of a human rights framework and for equating her understanding of human rights (which is too broad for Barnum, despite being the same one offered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) with King’s, and overall, for being “intellectually hollow” and “devoid” of “policy arguments.” Is this to suggest that we are to remember King by offering apolitical academic arguments on policy? (Which is, anyhow, impossible, in that policy always has political effects.) All in all, I think Barnum’s take on Ross does more disservice to King than Ross’s speech could have. Forgetting the political positions of someone who was an incredible activist and the ways these positions influenced all of King’s work, including his anti-war and economic rights activism, can only diminish our understanding of his contributions. What next, are we to forget that he was a preacher too? Ross’s speech was perhaps not the finest ever delivered from the Rockefeller pulpit, but it grasped King’s multi-faceted contributions to a number of movements, which we would do well to remember.
Megan Wade Antieau
Divinity School M.A. Class of 2008